There’s no shortage of weird bills introduced each legislative session, but the new one proposed by Harris County state representative Debbie Riddle is definitely among the weirder. Riddle’s HB 1748 would criminalize (with a Class A misdemeanor, the same type of crime as burglary and more serious than DWI) anyone who uses a bathroom that Riddle believes he or she is not authorized to use. Specifically, the bill’s language determines who can use which bathroom based on their DNA:
For the purpose of this section, the gender of an individual is the gender established at the individual’s birth or the gender established by the individual’s chromosomes. A male is an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female is an individual with at least one X chromosome and no Y chromosomes. If an individual’s gender established at the individual’s birth is not the same as the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes, the individual’s gender established by the individual’s chromosomes controls under this section.
If, at first glance, you thought, “So I have to get a DNA test to ensure that I’m using the right bathroom,” you’re not far off—although the burden, in the (unlikely) event that this bill becomes law and you get arrested for violating it, would be on the state. Fiscal conservatives, I’m sure, will be delighted to pay to genetically test everybody who uses a bathroom the Legislature thinks he or she shouldn’t. For the most part, men do have at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and women don’t have Y chromosomes, but that’s not the case for everybody; there are chromosomal abnormalities that could render Riddle’s language impossible to enforce even if Texas were interested in DNA testing everyone who it accused of violating the law, as the language would mandate.
But to be clear, Riddle’s bill isn’t aimed specifically at people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. It’s aimed at transgender women, as Riddle’s own comments make clear. She posted on Facebook in January that she had “several bills I think you may like. One will protect women & children from going into a ladies restroom & finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.” That’s a bold misunderstanding of how being transgender works, but as more city ordinances like Houston’s HERO pass in Texas and around the country, which prohibit business owners and property managers from discriminating based on their perception of a bathroom user’s gender identity, laws like Riddle’s are likely to be increasingly popular among those who choose to maintain that misunderstanding.
While the bill is aimed at trans women—as well as at property managers who would face a state jail felony if they allow someone whose chromosomes make Riddle believe they’re a certain gender to use the bathroom reserved for the other one—the splash zone is big here. Not only would the bill potentially make criminals of people with chromosomal abnormalities but even those who have no interest in the battle for transgender rights could face prosecution. Say you’re a cisgender lady with two XX chromosomes and you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, and the line for the single-occupant ladies’ room wraps around the entire Starbucks, while the men’s single-occupant bathroom is unoccupied. Under current law, rushing to use the men’s room and locking the door behind you is an understandable reaction that anyone can sympathize with. Under Riddle’s law, though, that woman may face up to a year in the pokey and $4,000 in fines for going in a restroom reserved for the fellas.
The other unintended consequence of this proposed law, as criminal justice blog Grits For Breakfast points out, is that it could hasten the adoption of the gender-neutral single-occupant bathrooms for which trans rights activists have advocated. Rather than risk a state jail felony because you failed to properly police your bathrooms to Debbie Riddle’s liking, you can just slap a sticker on the door that has both the male and female icons on it, and then everybody gets to go wherever they want.
Riddle’s imagination may be full of sneaky men who intend to creep into the ladies room by pleading that they’re secretly transgender (which, it’s worth noting, is not a thing that often happens), but what’s more realistic is that a trans man, whom the world looks at and sees as any other guy, would be required by law to use the ladies’ room. In other words, under Riddle’s proposed law, women using the bathroom with their children would find someone who looks like Buck Angel (first image below) in the stall next to them, while it would place someone who looks like Janet Mock (second image below) in the men’s room.
That’s almost certainly an unintended consequence of Riddle’s proposed law. But if it’s wrong to make Buck Angel use the ladies’ room for reasons that would appear obvious to Riddle, it’s no less wrong to make a transgender woman whom Riddle’s law targets use the men’s room. Whether talking about hormones, chromosomes, or personal identification, gender isn’t something that fits as neatly into a single sentence as Riddle clearly wishes it does, and attempting to police it through law is fundamentally incoherent.
(Photography credits, from top: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid; Buck Angel’s Instagram; Ronald Riqueros/PatrickMcMullan.com/Sipa USA)