Rosemary McLeod: I don't want to be intimate with strangers
OPINION: The dunny drama of 2017 was a happy moment for liberal-minded people to puff out their chests, preen, and congratulate themselves for being more progressive than bores like Family First. But they weren't entirely heroic.
It is galling to be patronised, and what's so straightforward anyway about a trans student at an all-girls school winning the right to use the girls' toilets, as opposed to identically equipped gender-neutral ones?
And why must a fellow student who says she, along with other students, wasn't consulted, and had her rights overlooked, be instantly shouted down?
I know drowning out what you don't want to hear is a time-honoured way of silencing people, but it's a form of bullying, actually; never quite admirable, always alienating.
This was about the protesting teenage girl at the anonymous school as much as the trans teenager, and while both could feel justified in being upset, they were equally matched.
Girl A, who complained, but says she has no personal grudge going, got involved with Family First as supporters, while girl B, the transgender, knew she would have the Human Rights Commission and all advocacy groups for transgender people on her side.
Girl A's sidekicks are unpopular conservatives, while girl B's are today's liberal right-thinkers. And there are learnings to be had here, as opposed to lessons, which you have – or ought to – at school.
Lynda Whitehead, spokeswoman for advocacy group Transaction, was level-headed in her response, conceding that students probably should have been consulted. I think she's right, that if they were asked, most girls wouldn't mind, and that would be the end of it.
But they weren't asked; nor, it seems, were questions aired and answered, which could have been done in a way that didn't isolate girl B, explaining why official thinking now says that people have the right to choose to use the dunny of the sex they identify with, as opposed to the one they were born with.
If the argument is good the girls, and any concerned parents, deserved to hear it. Schools are small dictatorships. This one didn't handle a complex problem well.
There are people who laugh off the idea that anything untoward can happen in toilets. They are fortunate in having limited life experience.
I once worked at a place where one women's toilet cubicle always seemed to be occupied, a fact we noticed with indifference until the day the pervert who installed himself there was caught peering over the top of that cubicle at a woman using the facility. We realised then that he'd been doing this for months, arriving before everyone else and leaving later.
Just what was fascinating for him in this arrangement is a mystery to me, and I'm not prepared to adopt a generous view about that gross invasion of privacy.
A toilet is a private space. You have the right not to be observed there, let alone perved on, and, like a cat circling its chosen ablution spot, are entitled to feel safe from predators.
Girl B is plainly not a predator, nor is she a threat. My point is that toilets are spaces people have strong, instinctive feelings about, even if they don't admit it. I dislike unisex toilets, which are becoming fashionable, possibly in part to get over the gender issues that currently bedevil us.
I expect to be able to put my lipstick on at the mirror above the hand basin without feeling awkward, and not to find the seat up when I enter the toilet space. I don't want to listen to men in the next cubicle, nor do I want them to listen to me. I don't want to be intimate, in short, with strangers.
I've heard the argument that we shouldn't worry because at home our toilets are genderless, and it cuts no ice. Our homes are not inhabited by strangers.
Whoever uses our bathrooms has permission to be there, but public toilets, like those in schools, are mostly used by people we don't know and have no wish to be intimate with. We've developed a dishonest pretence about this.
It wouldn't hurt to remember why men and women's loos have traditionally been separated. We may dress differently and talk differently, but we're still the same animals, with the same drives and instincts as we had thousands of years ago.
Nothing has changed about the need to be safe, just as surely nobody begrudges, if they think about it, a trans girl wanting to seamlessly blend in with other girls.
Kindness should dictate how we deal with anyone in that situation. This isn't an ideal world, and life won't be easy for them.
- The Dominion Post